Sorbitan Olivate: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: September 20, 2023
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Personal care products, encompassing skincare and hair care, can often bewilder even the most savvy among us. The labyrinth of ingredients printed on packaging might as well be written in a foreign language for those who lack expertise in cosmetic formulations. The daunting task of deciphering these labels often leaves consumers in a haze.

Take, for instance, the ingredient Sorbitan Olivate. If you’re like most people, that name probably sounds more like a character from a novel than a substance you’d find in a cosmetic.

However, despite its perplexing name, Sorbitan Olivate is a commonly used component in various cosmetic products, and it plays a pivotal role in enhancing their effectiveness. This article will shed light on this lesser-known yet significant ingredient; we’ll delve into Sorbitan Olivate’s details, its origins, why it’s incorporated in cosmetic products and its safety profile.

What is Sorbitan Olivate?

Sorbitan Olivate is a widely used ingredient in personal care products. Known by other aliases such as Olivem 900, Sorbitan Olivate is an ester of sorbitan (a dehydrated sorbitol, a sugar alcohol) and fatty acids derived from olives. Its general purpose within cosmetic formulations is to function as a surfactant and emulsifier. This means it reduces surface tension, helping blend oils and waters that are otherwise unmixable.

Sorbitan Olivate isn’t an ingredient you’ll find as a standalone on the shelf of a cosmetics store, instead, it’s used in a non-active manner and is utilized to enhance a product’s overall performance. Though concentration varies between products, typically, it’s used at a low to medium percentage within the formulation.

Who Can Use Sorbitan Olivate?

Sorbitan Olivate possesses a lovely attribute: its suitability for all skin types. Whether your skin is dry, oily, sensitive, or a combination, you can use Sorbitan Olivate products without worry. This wide-ranging compatibility makes it a popular choice for formulators of cosmetic products.

Regarding dietary choices and ethical considerations, Sorbitan Olivate products also get the green light. Since it’s derived from sorbitol and olive oil—both plant-based—it’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

As for pregnant or breastfeeding women, there’s currently no evidence suggesting that Sorbitan Olivate poses any risk. But as with all skincare and cosmetic products, it’s always wise to consult a healthcare professional if any concerns arise.

Sorbitan Olivate’s Cosmetic Uses

Sorbitan Olivate serves many roles in cosmetics, dictated by its official function as a surfactant and emulsifying agent. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Enhances Formula Stability: As an emulsifier, Sorbitan Olivate plays a crucial role in ensuring that water and oil components in a product do not separate. It reduces the surface tension between the oil and water molecules, allowing them to blend seamlessly. This results in a more stable and homogenous product that maintains a consistent texture and effectiveness over time.
  • Boosts Product Absorption: Sorbitan Olivate can improve the delivery of other ingredients in a cosmetic formula. It helps to create a smoother, thinner product that spreads easily on the skin, facilitating the absorption of active ingredients. This makes the inclusion of Sorbitan Olivate particularly advantageous in products that contain beneficial ingredients meant to be absorbed into the skin.
  • Promotes Skin Hydration: While Sorbitan Olivate’s primary function is not as a moisturizer, its emulsifying properties indirectly support skin hydration. By aiding in the formation of a stable emulsion, it helps keep the hydration and nourishing elements of creams and lotions evenly distributed, ensuring each application is as hydra-boosting as the last one.
  • Improves Product Consistency: Sorbitan Olivate contributes to the overall user experience by enhancing the consistency and feel of cosmetic products. Its surfactant property allows it to blend the diverse components in cosmetic formulas effectively, resulting in a smoother, creamier texture. This leads to easy application and a pleasant, non-greasy after-feel.

Keep in mind that while Sorbitan Olivate provides these benefits, the overall effectiveness of a product will depend on the other ingredients in the formula and their synergy.

Sorbitan Olivate Potential Side Effects

It is essential to understand that reactions and side effects from skincare ingredients can differ from person to person. This variance is mainly due to individual skin type, sensitivity levels, and the skin’s unique reaction to specific compounds. If you are unsure about your skin type, take a moment to find your skin type. Knowing this information can help you select appropriate products for your needs and evaluate any potential reactions properly.

When it comes to Sorbitan Olivate, potential side effects can include:

  • Skin Irritation: In rare cases, some individuals may experience redness, itching, or a mild rash. This reaction is typically due to a sensitivity or allergic reaction to the ingredient.

If you experience any of these side effects, it’s recommended to discontinue use of the product immediately. Seek professional advice if the irritation persists even after discontinuing use.

Though these potential side effects can occur, it’s crucial to understand that adverse reactions to Sorbitan Olivate are, by and large, infrequent. For most people, this ingredient tends to be safe and effective, improving cosmetic products’ stability, absorption, and feel.

Regardless of the general safety of an ingredient, it’s still highly advised to perform a patch test before using any new skincare product. This can help identify potential reactions before applying the product to a larger area. Follow our patch testing guide to understand how to perform a patch test correctly.

Comedogenic Rating

Sorbitan Olivate has a comedogenic rating of 2. This rating is on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 is non-comedogenic, and 5 is highly comedogenic.

What does this mean? A comedogenic rating of 2 indicates that this ingredient is unlikely to clog pores, but the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out, particularly for those individuals with extremely sensitive or acne-prone skin.

While Sorbitan Olivate is not entirely free from the potential to cause breakouts, its low comedogenic rating signifies minimal risk for most people. It’s worth noting that everyone’s skin can respond differently, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, even though Sorbitan Olivate has a relatively low comedogenic rating, individuals prone to acne should still consider their skin’s sensitivity and their response to this ingredient.


Regarding personal care products like skincare, not all ingredients have an immediate, tangible impact on our skin. Some ingredients, like Sorbitan Olivate, play a supporting role in the overall formulation. They’re the silent heroes, ensuring that the active ingredients perform their best, that the product maintains stability, and that the sensory experience is pleasant.

While Sorbitan Olivate may not boast the same recognition level as hyaluronic acid or retinol, its vital role in many cosmetic formulations should not be undermined. It is not an avant-garde ingredient making its debut; instead, it has been a reliable workhorse in skincare for many years.

If you feel uncertain about Sorbitan Olivate, remember its purpose in your skincare: it’s there to make the product work better for you. It helps to mix your products’ oil and water elements, supports other ingredients in absorbing well into your skin, and enhances the overall formulation stability. It is generally safe and well-tolerated, making it a competent and reliable ingredient in your personal care regimen.

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